Innovation on display at Natural Products Expo East

Innovation on display at Natural Products Expo East

Rapid growth in demand for natural and organic foods; the so-called real food movement that sees consumers demanding clean labels; growing concern over - and a redefinition of – healthy eating; an increased awareness of what goes into processed foods – from GMOs to antibiotics. These trends have proven themselves disruptive forces in the US food sector, catching larger food manufacturers and legacy brands off guard.

They also underpin the explosive growth witnessed by various SMEs that are able to deliver a more authentic message that appeals to a rising number of consumers in the US, feeding into a degree of scepticism over the industrialised food system.

But the giants of the food world have opened their eyes to the growing importance of these trends. The reaction has been decisive, if belated. Legacy food manufacturers have committed to adapting their brands to trends that have gathered significant momentum.

This summer, Kellogg revealed plans to launch over 40 snack and cereal products that incorporate “simple and recognisable” ingredients. General Mills – having snapped up natural food maker Annie's - also moved to reposition its mega brands such as Cheerios, adding to its "wellness" portfolio. General Mills is not only focusing on its existing brands, it is launching new brands to tap into these consumer demands, such as meal solution brand The Good Table. M&A has also been a route for large corporations to grow in the natural and organic space, with deals ranging from Hormel Foods acquiring Applegate Farms to Flowers Foods swooping for organic bread maker Alpine Valley.

As big business struggles to capitalise on consumer demand for natural, organic and premium foods, does this spell an end to the era of (relatively) easy wins for SMEs in the space? Smaller-scale natural and organic food makers were moving into a niche and able to pick up listings at major retailers without competing with the large corporations, whose margin profile is stronger due to their scale – and are therefore able to compete more effectively on price.

Smaller entrepreneurial companies have some distinct advantages working in their favour. They are not tainted with the degree of mistrust and disdain that a rising number of younger consumers associate with bigger food makers. Significantly, they are agile and nimble, able to react to and move ahead of what is exciting their consumers. While they might lack the R&D punch of the established food giants, they are able to react quickly and effectively. NPD is the lifeblood of these firms – and that was on full display at the Natural Products Expo East, held in Baltimore this week (17-19 September).

According to the organisers, as the event enters its second day it is set to bring in record numbers of visitors, with over 22,000 attendees and more than 1,800 exhibitors. Approximately 30% of those are exhibiting for the first time and new to the marketplace.

Here is just-food's pick of some of the most interesting products on show at the event:

Bob's Red Mill, gluten-free oatmeal

Bob's Red Mill gluten-free oatmeal cups cleverly feed into a number of hot trends: the rising demand for gluten free products, convenient breakfasts, food-on-the-go and a desire to eat more wholegrain. The cups feature a blend of gluten free quick cooking rolled oats, old fashioned rolled oats, stone ground Scottish Oatmeal, flaxseed and chia seeds. The come in four varieties: classic, brown sugar and maple, blueberry hazelnut and apple cinnamon.


Blount Fine Foods, Organic Savory Harvest Bisque Soup

Blount Fine Foods debuted a new organic Harvest Bisque soup at this year's Expo East. Organic, gluten-free and certified-vegetarian, the Savory Harvest Bisque Soup retails for an SRP of US$5.99 and its refined flavour and packaging will appeal to the growing demand from “foodie” consumers in search of high-quality and refined food products. “Our Organic Savory Harvest Bisque is one of the most unique and delicious soups to hit stores in the last several years,” said Bob Sewall, Blount’s executive vice president of Sales & Marketing. “This soup, with its layered flavours, striking colour, gentle texture and pleasing aroma, appeals in the most wonderful of ways to four of the five senses. Our culinary team really nailed this one.”


Ruby Rockets, dairy-free yoghurts

Ruby Rockets manufactures vegetable and fruit pops that are gluten-free, dairy-free, GMO-free, free from added sugars, stabilisers, colours and flavours as well as being low calorie. To this line, the company added a range of dairy-free yoghurts at the Expo East. The new yoghurts, which will be launching “soon” are also shelf-stable and portable.


Love Beets, beet bars and chips

Love Beets, a UK-based food group, is exhibiting its line of beet-based snacks at the event. The range, which the company bills as kid-friendly as well as healthy, includes conventional snack formats like bars and – newly launched – chips as well as some more interesting takes on beet-based snacking, such as marinated baby beets in peer and reseal packaging that are all-natural and gluten-free.


Against The Grain Gourmet, flat-bread pizza/wraps

Against the Grain Gourmet brigs a fresh interpretation to what has become a fairly common bakery item: gluten-free pizza bases and flatbreads. What is so interesting about Against the Grain's take is that the product doubles as both – bake the bread and its a pizza base, warm it and its a wrap. “This is the most versatile new frozen product, gluten free or not,” said Nancy Cain, a co-owner of the company. “This single-serve offering is something you can bring to work with you and prepare in minutes in a microwave or toaster oven--convenient, gluten-free, with simple ingredients, and superior taste.”


Avani, nutrient snack bars

Avani Bars are a natural snack bar that the company describes as “highly nutrient”. Made with fruit, nuts and raw honey Avani says its bars will make you feel full without “overdoing fat, calorie, and carbohydrate intake”. The nut-based bars are high in protein and vitamins and aimed at “athletes, outdoor recreationalists or anyone on-the-run”.


Chosen Foods, Avocado Oil Mayo

Chosen Foods is launching a “healthy” mayonnaise made using avocado oil. Free from soy and canola oil, refined sugar, GMO’s, artificial colours, flavours or preservatives, Chosen Foods Avocado Oil Mayo ticks all the boxes for consumers looking for a healthier mayonnaise option. The launch was prompted by the number of consumers who were using Chosen Foods' avecado oil to make their own mayo, marketing director Natalie Morse says. “We thought, why not just give them the convenience of buying it? We really wanted to make sure our mayo had the traditional taste people are hoping for but really up the quality factor using mostly organic ingredients.”


FreshKids, children's snacks

FreshKids debuted its clean label, non-GMO snacks brand at this year's Natural Products Expo East. The company is presenting three “signature” products: Whole-Grain & Honey-Kissed Pretzel Stix, Clean & Simple Popcorn, and White Cheddar Puffs. All are non-GMO ingredients, no high fructose corn syrup, no trans fats, no partially hydrogenated oils, no artificial colors and flavors, and no artificial sweeteners. “We founded FreshKids to be part of the movement to get kids healthy, and also join the conversation about childhood nutrition and food access in America,” says Susanne Brose, co-founder of FreshKids. “We want to be a solution for schools and families.”


The Jackfruit Co., meat alternatives

Demand for meat alternatives is on the rise with 36% of US consumers currently purchasing meat substitutes. The Jackfruit Co believes that its jackfruit-based meat-substitutes can help people who want to reduce their meat intake. The trade show marks the company's first retail trade launch, although the group has already secured listings with Whole Foods, where products will hit the shelves next month. Products are sustainably sourced, contain fibre, are fiber, low in calories and carbs, soy-free, gluten-free, nut-free, and non-GMO. They are free of additives and, The Jackfruit Co claims, are a whole food that can be used as a main dish in replace of meat in recipes such as tacos, sandwiches, stir-fries, and as a topping on salads or pizza


Justin's, snack pack

Dip maker Justin's is expanding into the snacking category with the launch of a new snack pack product line. The range includes three nut butter and pretzel combinations: Chocolate Hazelnut Butter and Pretzels; Classic Almond Butter and Pretzels; Maple Almond Butter and Pretzels. Justin’s all new Snack Packs are a part of the Made to Matter – Handpicked by Target™ product collection, and are now available nationwide for an SRP of $1.99.